Jez Hemming, local democracy reporter
A top police officer has admitted “a significant amount of officers” were sidelined because of a recent Covid outbreak at police headquarters.
The North Wales force’s chief constable Carl Foulkes made the admission to a virtual meeting of the North Wales Police and Crime Panel on Monday, as he reviewed the previous year’s policing.
It was confirmed a week ago that a “number of staff” at their HQ in Colwyn Bay had contracted the novel coronavirus strain and were self-isolating.
Speaking to panel members, Chief Constable Foulkes said: “Covid infection for the force is very low but in the last couple of weeks we have had an outbreak in Colwyn Bay and we have lost a significant amount of officers.”
He added “lots of officers” were now making their way back to work after the outbreak. He also revealed almost 800 police staff had been working from home during the pandemic.
During his presentation, the head of policing in the region said his force had issued 582 fixed penalty notices related to coronavirus rules and two for £10,000 to organisers of unauthorised music events earlier in the shutdown.
He said his officers had struck the right balance between advising and enforcing but envisaged more enforcement being used in the future because of the demands on police time.
One element that was easing demands on his officers was a reduction in crime – down 10% overall on last year.
He said: “Burglary, robbery, knife crime and gun crime are significantly lower than they would have been this time last year.”
Burglary was down almost 30% and violent crime by about 15% but he added there had been a “shift in criminality”.
Statistics for stalking and harassment (especially online) were significantly up and organised crime groups were using cyber and digital criminality to supplement what they were losing from a reduced drugs trade.
He said “online and cyber-related hate crime” had increased by 15.6% this year and Covid had helped increase digital and cyber crime as a whole by 319%.
Ten percent of sexual offences were “cyber enabled” and there had been increases in the targeting of children during the fire-break and half term periods, he added.
Chief Constable Foulkes said the number of operational county lines had reduced and police raids to take out key individuals had disrupted the drug gangs’ ability to trade.
He said Covid had also affected the organised crime groups but warned “violence and cuckooing remains a big threat”. Cuckooing is the practise of preying on a vulnerable person and using their property as a base for drug operations.
He said “romance” and “HMRC” scams were still continuing but said “we are stopping people having their money taken” and pointed to officers preventing £100,000 being defrauded from people over the last 12 months.
The chief constable said the number of people killed or seriously injured on North Wales roads had decreased from the previous year but officers were witnessing “people going at higher speeds” and “ever increasing numbers of positive drug tests from drivers”.
He said traffic officers had helped recover £1.3m in drugs and cash, arrest around 130 people linked to crime and about another 120 linked to driving offences.
Public confidence in the force had risen from 88% last year to 93% this year, said chief constable Foulkes.